Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chaakli


It was 5 am and I was fast asleep, snug under a light quilt that protected me from the air conditioning. There was a jerk and the bed shook as my aunt Chaakli sat bolt upright. She mumbled something about oversleeping and swung her legs by the side of the bed like an Olympic pole vaulter. She went around the bed and peered inside my mosquito net and whispered “Go back to sleep, it is too early!” Then she rushed out gently closing the bedroom door behind her. I tried to go back to sleep. But sleep had fled the room like Chaakli. I woke up and rubbed my eyes to the clanging of vessels in the big kitchen downstairs. 
 
“Hysterectomy drains your energy Anjali” said my aunt Chaakli (Jacqueline) walking in with a steaming cup of tea. Chaakli was one of my favorite grand aunts. She is not that old, she was the youngest of a brood of 14 kids, the eldest being my grandmother. She is in fact as old as my mom, and mom and aunt were and are best friends to this day. Kerala families of yesteryears were like that. For instance, my Dad and his uncle (his dad’s youngest brother) were firm friends and even studied together in the same class, till my Dad overtook him. But they remained best friends even as my Dad reached the 10th standard and Mathai remained languid, in the 7th.  They are best friends even now, even though Uncle is still in the 10th standard and my Dad finished college years ago. Don’t get me wrong. Mathai does not go to school now. He spent many a fruitful years bunking the 10th standard, till the kindly priest Father Yohannan, who was the long suffering principal of the school, gave him a transfer certificate (TC) and advised him to move out.

But before Mathai moved out of the St Paul’s School, Fr. Yohannan had to face the wrath of Mathai’s mother Lillykutty. Lillykutty was Fr Yohannan’s eldest sister. She was about 19 years older than him and was married before Fr. Yohannan was born. Yohannan and his nephew Patrose (Mathai’s eldest brother) were born on the same day though in different hospitals as his mother Elikutty went to her mother’s house for delivery as per the customs. So did his sister Lilykutty. His father’s elder sister Rosakutty attended to the neo natal duties of Lillykutty in the absence of Elikutty.

Lillykutty was a ‘righteous woman’ who went to church regularly and accepted her good fortunes as a reward from the good Lord and  misfortunes as the devils work which was to be dealt severely and rather personally. She was in Yohannan’s office before he could say “Shut the door and barricade it” to his faithful assistant. Her diminutive husband Paulose was in tow. He had no choice. “Sit down” barked Lillykutty to Paulose. Paulose obeyed timidly. He looked at Fr. Yohannan with pitying eyes.  He knew Yohannan was screwed.

Yohannan squirmed in his seat as Lillykutty peered at him like a snake peering at the mouse it was contemplating for dinner. Fr. Yohannan wiped the sweat off his forehead and tried reading the teacher’s register at the same time, but Lillykutty’s acute gaze had him sweating under his collar like the mouse that knows it is dinner. He tired drinking some water, spilled most of it down the front of his shirt and the rest on the table.

“Yohanna!!” hissed Lillykutty narrowing her eyes till they were tiny slits. Fr Yohannan paled and looked at her like the aforementioned rat facing the snake. “You are my youngest brother. So I will restrain myself today. But what you did was not good. Rusticating your own nephew…” she paused for dramatic effect. “…your own flesh and blood because he got a few marks short is a crime against your family, against God, against St Mathew after whom he is named and also Mathai’s father’s family who are no good but hurt by this act of yours!!!” she finished wheezing. Paulose wisely kept his mouth shut. Lillykutty had a touch of the asthma and the doctor had advised her against talking too much. But that didn’t prevent her from talking. In her family, she said, only the women talked. The men should shut the eff up if they wanted children to carry on the family name.

Yohannan looked at her rather alarmed. The last time she had a wheezing attack, he had to give Mathai a double promotion. This was soon after he spent four years in class 8. Yohannan knew he could do scant against the SSLC board even though the education minister was his relation from his mother’s side twice removed.

“Lillykutty, Mathai got an average of 28 marks in his exams. The passing marks is 35! There is nothing I could do even though most of the teachers here are our relations. You know how relations are. They talk!” wailed Fr. Yohannan. 

“You cannot give your own nephew, your own flesh and blood, seven marks!!!” screeched Lillykutty. To cut a long story short, it was decided to put Mathai into a polytechnic run by another order of priests. Lillykutty’s fourth brother was a priest in that order and that is how Mathai moved out of St. Paul’s and went onto the polytechnic where he really enjoyed himself and went onto becomes one of the largest car showroom owners of the region. Now you must be thinking that Mathai had found his calling and passed the polytechnic exam with flying colors and went onto become a car mechanic and graduated to a car showroom right? Wrong! He found  a fellow laggard at the polytechnic to bunk classes and go to the movies with, fell in love with the laggard's sister Elsamma and married her after eloping soon after which her very rich dad passed away leaving his entire property to his laggard son and runaway daughter. Mathai put the money to good use and the rest is history. Mathai and Elsamma were made for each other. Both had failed their way to the 10th where they got stuck due to the board exams which their teachers couldn’t clear for them. It was a disappointing end to a successful academic run.
Back to Chaakli or as the English would call her, “Jacqueline”. Chaakli was wrestling with a giant jackfruit. She chopped it open with one swift move of a cleaver, ripped the two sides apart and proceeded to remove the raw jackfruit dropping them into a wicker basket like a well oiled Jackfruit plucking machine. Then she removed the seeds from the jackfruit, picked up two coconuts and went onto break them with the blunt end of the cleaver. She then dragged the rather large coconut grater towards her and sat down to grate the coconut with the speed of a motorized grater. I felt tired just looking at her.

“You like pacha chakka erissery no!” she said indulgently. I did like Pacha chakka erissery (raw jackfruit curry), but the sheer effort it took to make, made me feel bad. But before I could say “what the eff” Chaakli was lugging two coconut fronds into the back yard and preparing a roaring fire. “You have to take some cashew nuts with you when you go back. These are organic.” she yelled over the roaring fire. Before long she had the erissery cooking away and Chaakli was walking purposefully towards a flock of chickens. She caught one effortlessly and I looked away while she prepared the chicken for cooking.

“This is healthy meat, not your antibiotic and chemically grown chickens you know.” I looked at her warily. What would she do next I wondered. The cattle and the goats were at the meadow far away from the house I noted thankfully. 

“The better way of eating the erissery is with beef curry” said Chaakli talking no one in particular. I looked at the cattle grazing peacefully and cringed. She picked up the cleaver and before I could say “Nooo” she put it down and said. “But we will settle for chicken curry today. You uncle has no time to go to the beef shop.  I smile in relief, my face white. 
Chaakli disappeared and shortly I heard noises in the attic. Then I saw her climbing down the wooden ladder carrying a giant Uruli, a kind of a heavy brass wok used in Kerala homes.  
Very soon she was grinding masala for the chicken curry on the heavy grinding stone while I looked on in horror. The grinding stone looked like it weighed a ton at least. While she ground the masala she chattered on. “Look at me Anjali; I cannot do half the work I used to do before my operation”. I flinched at the thought. She had done more work in two hours than an average head load worker in K R Market would do in a day.

“Why don’t you let Annakutty help you?” I asked her foolishly.                    

“She is useless!! She is only good for cutting vegetables.” scoffed Chaakli as she macerated the masala into a fine paste. Annakutty stuck her tongue out at Chaakli who was too busy grinding to notice. Annakutty lived in the nearby village. He dad was a farm worker with Chaakli’s family for generations. She helped out in the house whenever possible, getting a princely sum of Rs. 300 per day for basically doing nothing while Chaakli  did most of the work by herself complaining ““Hysterectomy drains your energy, I cannot work the way I used to.”

Annakutty once confessed to me that she lost a lot of weight just watching Chaakli work. “I got so tired of watching her that I became thin! My mother came and chided Chaakli for giving me too much work!”

“Then what happened Annakutty?” I asked.  “Then she sat down and watched Chaakli ammayi work and scolded me for not helping her out.” She pouted.

As I slept off the delicious jackfruit curry and the twenty other side dishes Chaakli had made to go with it and a delectable ada pradhaman to wash all that down, I heard a heavy banging. Walking out of the house I was shocked to see Chaakli washing what looked like a double bed sheet. “Why don’t you put that into the washing machine aunty” I asked.

“No power, besides these are the bed sheets Sarah bought me from England. You need to wash it carefully,” She said hitting the stone with the bed sheets like she was trying to scare the devil out of it. The washing stone did indeed look like it had seen better days. As in days when Uncle would put the clothes in the washing machine surreptitiously before aunty found them and gave them a hiding on the washing stone. Looking at the state of the stone, this was not too often.

“What do you want for tea!” she enquired without looking up from her grisly chore. It was a rhetorical question. I knew that she had been busy cooking while I snoozed. Unlike normal people in the neighborhood, who would lope down to the village bakery for evening tea essentials, Chaakli would have slaved over the stove preparing the banquet herself. 
I walked over to the dining table laden with coffee, tea and a dozen snacks that Chaakli had prepared because ‘Hysterectomy had drained her off energy or she would made a least a decent 20’. The lunch rumbled in my stomach and I looked despondently at the table groaning under the load. Uncle came in and chuckled at my sight. 

He swiftly removed some snacks from each plate and wrapped it in a newspaper and shoved it onto the seat of chair next to him. Aunty who was running to and fro from the kitchen did not notice. She was too busy roasting the coffee beans and grinding them in the mixie before adding them to the percolator and topping that with hot boiling water, to slowly release its precious load of aromatic coffee decoction.  The result was the most delicious coffee in the world. The small coffee patch beside the house was planted by my grandmother. The small patch which was about an acre produced some outstanding coffee of an unknown type. Every year during the coffee season, the coffee beans would be plucked, dried and then stored for the family’s use. My mom got a tin every year and it was used for special occasions. The coffee was mesmerizing. It sort of put you into a trance as you gulped one delicious draught after draught. The trance lingered for a long while after the cup was emptied of its ambrosial contents. 
In the late evening, uncle bought out his jeep. The jeep had seen better days. It was an old army junk that uncle had bought in an auction ostensibly to go hunting. Unfortunately, every now and then the jeep let out a lusty fart from its tired old engines scaring animals away. Uncle who is hard of hearing never understood why he had never shot an animal since 1965 when he had bought the jeep.  Aunty was thankful that he had never had and would never will as long as he had this jeep as he had no concept of Wildlife Protection Laws. As we drove into the jungle amidst loud farts and the rattle and shakes of the jeep, a herd of deer ran startled into the bushes.  Uncle cursed under his breath. “I am getting old Anjali or these fellows would be dinner!” He exclaimed exasperatedly. I looked at the magnificent stag with his beautiful antlers and remembered the wild rooster uncle had once bought from a poacher and claimed to be his own kill. It took aunty over four hours to cook and about one hour for the diners to chew and spit out when they realized what they were eating. But the gravy was delicious and drowned out the guilt of eating a wild fowl. I thanked my lucky stars that the stag would never end up as dinner. Aunty’s parting shot as we farted err drove away was “Don’t you dare bring back any animals for me to cook!”

Late in the night we drove back home from the “hunting expedition”, with uncle taking large swigs of some fine scotch from a hip flask while I drove the jaunty jalopy over the mud roads of the forest, I couldn’t believe that the man had not shot an animal, not even a wild boar in the last 25 years or so. I remember my dad telling me that he was a good marksman. 

“So what’s the deal Uncle?” I inquired. “How come you never shot an animal?”

He took a long thoughtful swig from the flask, wiped his face with sleeve of his Khaki shirt and said “Now what do I say Anjali. I gave up hunting years ago, when they passed the blasted Wildlife Act. And I am happy that they did too. What’s the point in stalking a wild boar and not getting a shot when all you need to do is drive one towards your aunt’s prized vegetable garden!!"

Apparently, the last time one of them wild boars ransacked my aunts vegetable patch, she took the cleaver and the family had pork roast, pork curry, pork pickle and pork dry fry for the next 6 month till they were gagging. She was that hopping mad.

“And was this after her hysterectomy or before?” I asked dryly.

“After the operation or she would have killed the rest of the herd too!! There were eight of them!” he exclaimed.

“You are kidding me right?’ I gasped. 

No, I am not kidding. There were eight!! But what to do Anjali!” He imitated aunty. “Hysterectomy drains your energy Anjali or I would have killed all of them!”

I don’t remember what was more difficult that night, trying to manage the rattling jeep while ensuring that my uncle who was rolling on the floor laughing did not fall of the jeep or trying not to giggle hysterically while we farted our way home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Consumerics




At Singapore in a clothing shop:


Shop Owner: Excuse me Madam, please don’t try on the clothes here, go to the changing room!!!
Indian lady: Teek hai! Teek hai!
Shop Owners Wife: Madam, Madam, please don’t try on that lipstick, use the trial pack please!!!
Another Indian lady: Ok, ok fine, give it to me!!!
Shop Owners Daughter: Sir, Sir, please don’t remove the comb from the cover to comb your hair!
Indian man (shrugs): Ok!
Shop Owner (In Chinese): #@&^%$#&amp Indians;!!! 

Half an hour later the Shop Owner, Wife and Daughter have their hair standing on ends, are taking generous swigs of antacid and looking flustered, not necessarily in that order. They are also panting due to the combined effort of after running around the feet shop after various Indian customers.

One hour later:

Indian lady walks to the cash counter with 10 tops, 5 pairs of shoes, cosmetics and perfumes.
Other Indian lady buys  5 tee shirts, 8 pants, 3 dozen underwear and  3 bottles of cologne.
Indian man shoves his shopping bag of some half a dozen pants, shirts, socks, handkerchiefs, ties, and other sundry items onto the billing counter. And so do others.

Shop Owner (in English): We luvvvv Indians!! Such nice people...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Of Rice and Men

It was a Monday morning meeting and I was waiting in the conference room for the Senior Product Manager (PM) to make an arrival. He was usually punctual. In fact he was always punctual. You can see folks adjusting their watches when he walks into the office. At least the ones still wearing a wrist watch. The rest just know it was time to start pretending to work.
                                                                                     
I surfed Ebay, trolled some news sites, and did the mandatory likes on photographs on Facebook. There were quite a few of them. I hastily unliked a photograph of some Himalayan baba sitting in the buff next to one of my gullible North Indian friends. This friend describes herself as "very spiritual". The next photo had her sitting on the baba's lap and baba sporting a rather inscrutable expression. I am sure she found the experience “spiritually uplifting” heh heh.

In the early 2000's she was the devotee of a Sadhvi. Sadhvi fixed all her devotees marriages, both national and international. Spiritual friend had her fix a wedding for me too. But I didn't care too much for the anemic Spaniard with the scrubby goatee. Besides it was my hasne khelne ke din in those days. I wondered aloud if I could do some browsing of the Sadhvi's grooms catalog. Friend was shocked and flabbergasted. She had never heard such a sacrilegious suggestion. Arranged marriage, she explained to me wagging her finger furiously, was God's way of uniting me with my soul mate. I yawned and she broke off the friendship for a while. I was relieved, till spiritual friend decided to forgive and forget. Which was annoying often.

After that I was mostly darting behind buildings and trees when I saw her approaching with photographs and albums. She tried hitching me to a pedantic Englishman, a painfully thin and "aromatic" Italian, a brusque 50 year old German and phlegmatic other nationality I don't remember. I got away with some sacrilegious suggestion or other and a whole lotta temporary suspension of friendship for some time, till Sadhvi got her married to an Estonian who was mostly stoned. She flew to Estonia and then moved to England in a container and then onto Mexico crossing the border into the US with her husband in a truck with mostly Spanish people co passengers. It was rather cramped she said in one of her numerous mails to me. But Sadhvi's framed photograph kept her steadfast. Now that her husband is in rehab, she has gone back to work as an "alternate medicine" dispenser in one of Sadhvi's clinic in the US. She is mostly stoned and doesn't trouble me anymore.

It was 10 am when PM walked in. He looked sleepy and disheveled. He barely sat through the new product meeting nodding off now and then. This was very unusual. PM was a dedicated man who was first to arrive in the office and last to leave. He could explain the features and modules of the new application he was building any number of times and repeat it again when I woke up from my slumber. He seemed to be in a lot of distress.

“What happened Srikant?” I asked with unabashed curiosity.
“Didn't have breakfast” he said sleepily. “I am so hungry.”

My eyebrows flew up. This sounded real juicy. “Why don’t you go eat something and come back?” I said sympathetically.  “It’s all right” he shrugged. “What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?” he asked none too enthusiastically.

The next day, he looked even more distressed. So I took him out for lunch. I wanted to be the first to get the dirt. The developers working with him were seen gnashing their teeth in despair. I had, as usual got to the kill before them. Lunch was an extraordinary affair. PM ate like a zombie. After watching him for 10 minutes I finally asked him what was bothering him.

“It is vacation time” he said gloomily. “The family is in my native place.”
That made sense. The poor fellow was missing his wife and kid! My eyes teared up. The man was obviously a softie. I thought his wife was really lucky.
“I am a creature of habit Silverine”, said Srikant, interrupting my happy thoughts. “I am used to Kanchipuram Idlis on Monday morning, Dosa on Tuesday, Pongal on Wednesday, Akki roti on Thursday and Upma on Friday. I cannot eat omelet everyday!!!” I frowned. This didn’t make any sense!

“My lunch is also follows the same pattern! I cannot eat this Cafeteria food! A working man has to eat. It is the least I can ask!!”

I looked at him. It all made sense now. The poor man was struggling for food with the ungrateful wife away on vacation. I picked up the delicious looking payasam and poured him some over his head. Then the paneer makhani followed by the butter chicken masala. Then I kicked his arse all the way to the office where the ladies gave him a tongue lashing. By the time they were done, PM was a changed man. He was heard calling his wife and asking her to stay an extra week at her parents place.

Next day he was bright and early, full of enthusiasm and energy. We patted ourselves on our respective backs and went to work with a sigh of accomplishment.

At lunch, PM opened his tiffin and a delicious aroma filled the dining area. We looked at each other and nodded approvingly. He had obviously made his own lunch. Then his phone rang and we heard him this conversation, “The food is fine amma. But you didn't make curd rice? You know I cannot do without curd rice at the end of the meal!!!”

He didn't know what hit him. But he is recovering fine at the hospital. His mom is making him some special soup for an early recovery. We don’t think there is any hope for him.


Sunday, August 04, 2013

Frandship forever

Today is International Friendship Day. A day to remember friends and commemorate friendships. Friendship is not be mistaken for "Frandship”, a word that took birth when Totally Random Indian Guys on Orkut copulated virtually with Every Random Girl on Orkut.  The Totally Random Indian Guys on Orkut (TRIGO) is a large conglomerate of desperate guys who spent approximately 99% of their lives searching for female profiles and sending them 'frandsdhip’ requests. This made Every Random Girl on Orkut (ERGO) to either block the requester or tell him to eff off. TRIGO led to the birth of privacy tools and later to another conglomerate called, ‘Facebook’.

“Frandship’ has redefined friendship. Today you can block your friends on Facebook from viewing your timeline, friends list, photos and much more.  You can even delete their comments or block access to your account while the person remains in your friend’s list.

But how many of us acknowledge the TRIGO brotherhood and their contribution on heightened online privacy and better social networking experiences! No one.

And this raises the question. Where is TRIGO? Did they die a natural death or are they somewhere around working ways to get their frandship request across impenetrable firewalls!

A little bit of digging gave a few answers… and raised a few questions.

The TRIGO is alive and kicking folks… on Orkut. One TRIGO member told me that the ERGO are much more chilled out these days and accept their 'frandship' requests. But they are shy. They do not reveal their photos and the TRIGO’s are fine with that. After all they are girls right? They need to keep their photos from being downloaded by creeps right?

The girls do not mind sharing their mobile numbers too. This has led to steamy conversations and late night clogging of the 2G spectrum. It is happiness all around. But there is a grouse. As one TRIGO told me, girls do not sound like girls these days. I was intrigued. Were they bold. Did they talk ungirly things like ‘you know what’. It was nothing of that sort said the TRIGO. It was just that… their voices are so masculine.

Erm…

So why did I write this post when today is International Friendship Day which is just the opposite of International Frandship Day! Because I want 'Frandship’ to be included in the Oxford Dictionary. It deserves it don’t you think! It qualifies on many levels too, like its extensive abuse err... use, it is used online and well as in print and it has been around since the beginning of time err... I mean since the beginning of Orkut.
However I will dwell on only one which will drive my point across rather nicely to the Oxford Committee members and that is:

Several female members of the Oxford Dictionary Committee were Orkut users and will not forget the harrowing 'frandship' and 'loveship' days.

Nice!



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Clueless in uniform


It’s been long folks. I plead guilty to neglecting this space. But in my defiance…err I mean defense, I must say that I was as appalled as the rest of the country at the atrocities against women and the girl child being perpetrated across the country as though an alien virus had come down and infected some Indian men.  While people debated over various TV channels about police inaction and insensitivity, I did a quiet survey of my own and was appalled…again at what I had deduced. Given below is my conclusion about the efficacy of our State police in stopping crimes against women in a few sample states in India. The final results will shock you.  This article is not for the weak-hearted. So please read this “Disclaimer” before you read any further:

Kerala Police:

A girl alights from a bus and waits in the bus stand, calmly listening to music over the earphones. She looks at the watch now and then and looks around a little impatiently. She is clearly waiting for somebody. A group of people start whispering and pointing towards her. The group grows bigger and the people more incensed. How dare a girl stand at the bus stand so long? What was she doing? She must an immoral person or worse, a modern liberated woman. Someone calls the police. The police come sirens blazing. If this was murder case, the cops would take at least three hours to reach the scene. The girl is questioned and her explanations are ignored as she is taken to the police station in the jeep. Fat Kerala Policewomen snicker at her and look at each other meaningfully. The people applaud. Yet another girl is put in her place by the vigilante err... vigilant people of the town. The girls parents are called and berated for not knowing her whereabouts. Their protestations are ignored and the girl sent home with a dire warning that she should not repeat this offense. On their way out you can hear the girl saying “ But you told me to wait at the bus stand!!! I told you that I can come home on my own. *sob*.

Sigh!

Karnataka Police:

A girl alights from a bus and waits in the bus stand, calmly listening to music over the earphones. She looks at the watch now and then and looks around a little impatiently. She is clearly waiting for somebody. A guy approaches her. She gives him the cold shoulder.

Cop1: I bet you ten bucks she will go with him
Cop2: I bet you twenty bucks she won’t.
Cop1:  Deal!

And they watch with great interest as the girl ignores the Romeo and he walks away dejectedly. Cop 1 is crestfallen as he hands over the money to a delighted Cop 2. He curses the stupid girl for ruining his day. Cop 2 pats himself for his astute intuition when it comes to the people of Bengaluru.

Delhi Police:

A girl alights from a bus and waits in the bus stand, calmly listening to music over the earphones. She looks at the watch now and then and looks around a little impatiently. She is clearly waiting for somebody. Guys start approaching her with vulgar offers. She abuses them hoping to deter them. One of the guys slaps her. Two cops who are watching this tamasha come charging in and start beating the girl black and blue. She tries to run but they catch her and put her in the jail where fat policewomen slap her and call her all sorts of names.  She is released after every policeman and woman has taken turns to call her an immoral woman who is hell bent on creating more work for them, till parents or relatives get her out.

Tamilnadu Police:

A girl alights from a bus and waits in the bus stand, calmly listening to music over the earphones. She looks at the watch now and then and looks around a little impatiently. She is clearly waiting for somebody. A guy approaches and tries to talk to her and out of nowhere, a mass of people converge on the guy and beat him black and blue before he could say “Aiyyayo!!”. Cops arrive and part the crowd with great difficulty and take the boy to the police station while the people try to gamely kick him in the groins. Boy learns his lesson, when in Tamilnadu, leave the girls alone.

As you can see from the above examples, the Tamilnadu cops are the most insensitive of the lot. They did absolutely nothing when the girl was being harassed while their valiant brethren in other states were so proactive. Never mind the misdirection of the 'proactiveness'. 

When this journalist questioned a Delhi cop, he said “ I don’t understand these new generation types. They cry when we do nothing and cry louder when we do something”. Poor guys! They do have a  genuine problem.